South Africa is poised to introduce a carbon tax next year, Reuters reports. The Treasury Department proposed in its budget for 2012/2013 to enact a 60 percent tax-free threshold on annual carbon emissions for all sectors with a tax of 120 rand per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) for emissions above the thresholds. The tax would come into effect in 2013/2014, and increase by 10 percent a year until 2020. The draft policy will be published later this year, the Treasury Department said.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? South Africa is already feeling the impacts of climate change “sooner and harder than anticipated and we can expect that current projections will also be overtaken,” according to a 2011 report by the environmental group, Ground Work. Climate change experts predict that by mid-century the South African coast will warm by around one to two degrees Celsius, and the interior by around two to three degrees Celsius. After 2050, the warming is projected to be around three to four degrees along the coast, and six to seven along the interior. This would be well above the international target of keeping temperature increase below two degrees Celsius.
As the report states, “With these kinds of temperature increases, life as we know it will change completely.” Temperature increases will bring “intensified floods and droughts, fire and disease, mass extinctions of plant and animal species and rising sea levels.”
Before you start feeling warm and fuzzy about the carbon tax proposal, let me give you one key detail. Two-thirds of emissions will be tax-exempt until 2020. Why the exemption? “To minimize adverse impacts on industry competitiveness and effectively manage the transition to a low-carbon economy, temporary thresholds are proposed … which an exemption from the carbon tax will be granted,” Reuters quotes the budget as stating.
South Africa is the African continent’s largest economy and its largest polluter. The country is also one of the 20 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) worldwide. The carbon tax proposal doesn’t bode well for Africa when it comes to battling climate change.
The Ground Work report notes that a carbon tax “will have little effect unless it is very substantial.” Protecting the competiveness of key industries “puts the purpose of the tax in question.”
The carbon tax proposal put forth by the Treasury Department does what the writer of an op-ed for AllAfrica.com believes that all of the policies of the South African government do: it “puts short-term demands above long-term thinking.” The writer, Patrick Bond, who directs the UKZN Center for Civil Society adds that putting short-term demands first promotes “unfairness and exclusion, and thus preventing lasting prosperity and stability.”
In the meantime, the planet is heating up, and the time for governments and corporations to take effective action to keep the warming to two degrees Celsius is narrowing.
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